Sunday, May 12, 2019

How to believe your work matters, even if the world doesn't change.

Every age hath its own problem, and every soul its particular aspiration. The remedy the world needeth in its present-day afflictions, can never be the same as that which a subsequent age may require. Be anxiously concerned with the needs of the age ye live in, and center your deliberations on its exigencies and requirements. - Bahá'u'lláh

Does what I say and do, really matter? There are so many oppressive forces about us today, that often we are left feeling that our small work, our daily efforts are really so minuscule in comparison to the battery of no's we face that seem to be working against not only us, but everything we love. How then can our work matter? 

This is a question that has crossed my path numerous times, most often in conversation with others and when engaged in a healing space with people I work with. Immediately my body responds with a tightening in the gut and I know that is fear...so what are we afraid of?

This life challenges us in so many ways, but one of the strongest is that in our essence we are made of spirit and yet we live in a material world. Why does this matter? Because spirit energy moves very differently then material energy.

Spirit energy knows no restrictions of time and has no physical bounds! It is why our dreams and visions are so important to our movement. We are able to envision a different reality, we are able to dream up incredible worlds in which we participate in without limitations. Because this is the reality of our spirits, they are energy that is moved by the force of our visions and dreams. These then are animated by what nourishes our spirits and that is the information we feed ourselves through the material we read and digest.

What you feed your spirit matters.


How do we feed our spirits? Divine teachers and sages of all eras have said the same thing: Holy words and prayers. Holy words that uplift your spirit and vision to a true picture of who you are. Prayers that remind you of your true essence and strengthen you to continue on.

But does reading sacred text in the 21st Century even matter anymore?

Luckily for us, Western science is catching up and we are being told that when we are positive and we surround ourselves with positive messages and affirmations, we change for the better! So reading sacred text, poetry that sees through the night, writers that have wrestled with their demons and found light out of darkness...listening to songs that ask us to stretch wider, even through our pain, this all feeds our spirit and helps widen our vision.

So what does this have to do with spirit and material matter? 



Because unlike spirit energy, material energy is stable and solid, it is slow to change and constant - so it can create the illusion of permanence. When we look at the world through a material lens we think things will always be as they are, that change will be slow to come and may never come and if we believe this illusion, then we are in danger of giving up...of not seeing the immense value of our efforts, both in words and actions.

And so we become dependent on the material world and we think if there is to be change we must be fully in charge. I know that if I move a chair change happens. If I wash my clothes I remove the stains. And so I begin to believe that all of life is like this and if I am to be in charge, then I can create the change I want by controlling the outcome of each action I take. This is the illusion of control - that somehow if we are just to be in charge, then we can control outcomes.

When we believe the illusion of control we begin to actually become out of control, by trying to control every aspect of our lives and the lives of others. We direct our children. We subjugate our employees into submission through systems of reviews and write-ups. We manipulate and maneuver every aspect of our lives so that the outcome matches our vision of what is right and true.

So why is this bad?

When we become so consumed by control we lose control, our emotions are left unattended as they are not part of our vision of control and when you leave powerful energy like emotions unattended, they can become destructive. Eventually our control will meet a force that will challenge its ability. When we meet this force it will push us to either submit and learn to listen to our spirit energy as a motivating force or we will degenerate into more inhumane behaviors in an effort to control an outcome we desire. We may rationalize these behaviors as necessary to achieve the outcome we believe to be right and true, when the reality is, we may actually be scared of what does it mean if we do not achieve our outcome. Because dependence on the material world for our personal well-being and worth, sets us up to a very high standard of success that is also measured by the material world. We begin to believe that more money, means more success; a promotion, means more success; a bigger house, means more success. And we lose sight of that which might actually be of greater service to us for all eternity: the strength of our spirit.

The strength of our spirit is the one thing we do get to take with us when we die. 


And how do we strengthen our spirit?



By releasing control. Learning to work with others and their vision. Learning to develop tact and wisdom of when to speak out and when to remain silent. Learning to have patience and faith in the process of growth that all of humanity is moving through. And of supreme importance, learning to have humility...trusting that whatever our spirit aspires to, when guided by the forces of love and unity, will most assuredly contribute to the progress of the world.

In the words of one of the great Luminaries of the East,

"One deed in this Day, is equivalent to deeds performed during a hundred thousand years" (Bahá'u'lláh".

I guess we cannot really say what impact our efforts and work has on the world, but I will trust Bahá'u'lláh and be anxiously concerned with the needs of this age that we live in and make every effort that my deeds reflect the best of my spirit and what I have to offer the world.

Saturday, February 9, 2019

Perfectionism and Success: Is it an Illusion?

Consider then, how all the peoples of the world are bowing the knee to a fancy of their own contriving, how they have created a creator within their own minds, and they call it the Fashioner of all that is—whereas in truth it is but an illusion. Thus are the people worshipping only an error of perception. - 'Abdu'l-Bahá

Recently I have been reflecting on what is success, what is good, what is getting it right and what does it mean to be doing well. We have all asked and been asked, How are you doing? and we respond, I'm good. I'm doing well. But what does that mean really? Does that mean all things are in order and everyone is marching ahead? Does that mean we are all getting straight As in life and everything we do? We have set up a system of good and bad, of right and wrong, and some of us make it and others fall short. But who set up this standard? How do we know if this standard is valid and what makes it a standard? There are two sources I go to when trying to decide whether something has merit or not: Divine Teachings and Stories.

Image of dream catcher to represent a spiritual blueprint for life

Divine Teachings


What are divine teachings? They are also known as Holy books or Holy words and they come from the Prophets, messengers sent to guide humanity with a spiritual blueprint through this maze of life. One of the continuous strands of these great Teachers and their Texts is they all mirror each other. None of these Prophets deviates from the other in their spiritual concepts. They guide humanity forward with the same stream of guidance for the spirit:

  • Be humble
  • Embrace tests and difficulties
  • Live a life of prayer and supplication

So then why do we think when life is hard or when we're facing mass difficulties that it is a sign that we failed? Why do we cringe back in shame when we don't "get life right"? Why do we think prayer and supplication are for nuns and monks cloistered on a mountain top? 

I think we have strayed so far from our spiritual blueprint that we have created our own measurements and they are based on the world's standards. We believe that there is such a thing as a gifted student that implies others are not. We believe that getting straight As means we have succeeded and when we prepare hard for something and don't get it, we have failed. We have forgotten we are spirit beings first with full access to all the powers of the spirit realm:
    Young man sitting with presence and joy

  • Intuition
  • Presence
  • Love - Love - Love


These are powerful tools that can help us breakaway from this world of illusions where we measure our spirits to material standards. How far does your spirit stretch? Far beyond the canyons of the mountains, but how would you know this if every time you face a test and difficulty you cringe back in shame? If every time your kid does not make the honor roll, does not make the dean's list you hold back and wonder what you did wrong? It is not to say that those who do are getting it wrong either. It is to say that we should not measure ourselves against the false standards of man. Instead, we should look deep within and ask: 

  • What am I learning about patience? about love? about being present?
  • What am I learning about how to love deeply despite my loved one's shortcomings?
  • What am I learning about staying in the conversation when things are not going well?
  • What am I learning about what to do with deep pain and sorrow when I feel I can't seem to get things right? 

And what about stories?

Stories


I think beyond being a storyteller, I am also drawn to stories because a good story tells us of a life well-lived. They tell us of how life can try and shape and mold a person, but when led by Spirit, the protagonist in the story instead releases all control and is guided by a much deeper inner knowing, a calling, a truth that will not release them and while on the inside it is pure light and love, on the outside it can look like a mess and a half. 

What are examples of this kind of life? There are many and again, I often turn to those early believers of the great Prophets to see what they did when trying to live a life based on the spiritual blueprint they were given and not this external reality they live in. 

Paul comes to mind. I have not studied the Bible as many of my dear friends have, but when I am faced with great tests and difficulties - and I have been completely flattened out by tests numerous times - many of my dearest friends will ask me to look to the life of Paul. Paul, an early Christian teacher, spent the majority of his life in prison. He often referenced a deep and difficult pain that assailed him continuously and yet he learned to glory in this weakness because the message he got was, "My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is perfected in weakness." And yet, all of us try and get away from weakness. Still, the great teachers of these stories show us that in weakness they are strong, in humility they are powerful. 
Another example for me of this understanding is someone more recent to our lives, South African Freedom Fighter Nelson Mandela. What a fiery power he was his whole life and yet how different this fire showed up at different times of his life! Initially as he worked tirelessly to break Apartheid he used this fire to place a constant strain on this unjust system. After he was imprisoned, he continued to fight and over time this fire bowed to humility and his gentle presence became a testament of faith in the nobility of the soul of all humans, even those who aspired to oppress him. 

  • Humility 
  • True joy in the face of extreme pain
  • A life not of material successes

These are concepts we are not very comfortable with, instead we want demonstrations of material wealth, some outward manifestation of success that the world would applaud - surely this does not include: imprisonment, a C or D student, unemployment, underemployment. And of course, one does not desire these things, nor should one strive towards them. But if they happen to you, wouldn't the real measurement come with how did you walk these tests? Wouldn't the real question be, what can we all learn with you as you learn to walk these difficulties with spirit feet? Because if you are willing to expand, if you are willing to help us all break away from this illusion, you would invite us on this journey of life you are living and you would teach us about what you are learning:

  • How does a soul expand beyond its current limitations?
  • How does pain become a tool for healing and greater joy?
  • How do we walk away from shame and embrace humility and truth-seeking?

I am learning these things and I invite you to walk with me and I will share all I learn. I hope you will do the same. 

Saturday, January 12, 2019

Y Si el Sufrimiento nos Lleva al Amor?

"La mente y el espíritu del hombre avanzan cuando es probado por el sufrimiento. Cuanto más se arada la tierra, mejor crecerá la semilla, mejor será la cosecha. Así como el arado surca la tierra profundamente, purificándola de malezas y cardos, por lo tanto, el sufrimiento y la tribulación liberan al hombre de los pequeños asuntos de esta vida mundana hasta que llega a un estado de completo desapego". - 'Abdul-Bahá



Parece que vivimos en una sociedad que está profundamente convencida de que si podemos vivir una vida sin preocupaciones y sin estrés, lo estamos haciendo bien. Cada vez más, he empezado a cuestionar esta idea y me pregunto si hay un significado mucho más profundo del sufrimiento y la incomodidad que perderemos si intentamos mantenernos alejados del sufrimiento. No estoy abogando que nos preocupemos, la preocupación se debe al temor que puede llevar a un deseo de control. No estoy diciendo que debamos enfatizar tampoco el estrés; el estrés es un síntoma de un intento de controlar algo que puede no estar bajo nuestra capacidad de controlar. Y, finalmente, definitivamente no estoy diciendo que debamos buscar el sufrimiento o, peor, infligirlo a los demás. Lo que estoy diciendo es que al tratar de evitar el sufrimiento que naturalmente viene con la vida, también podemos estar evitando la oportunidad de amar profundamente.

Entonces, ¿cómo debemos tratar con el sufrimiento?


Foto de whoislimos en Unsplash.
Cuando se piensa en el sufrimiento, surge la pregunta: ¿cuál es la causa? A menudo la causa es una interacción con alguien o algo. Cuando esta interacción es dolorosa o triste y nos sentimos incómodos, intentamos alejarnos del dolor o del miedo. Nos alejamos no solo porque es incómodo, sino que lo más probable es que no sepamos qué hacer con el dolor o el miedo cuando aparecen, nunca nos han enseñado qué hacer con las emociones que no nos gustan, excepto reprimirlos. Las emociones son energía y, de acuerdo con las leyes de la energía, no puedes destruir la energía, no puedes hacer más de ella, solo puedes transformarla. Entonces, cuando reprimimos la tristeza y el miedo, puede transformarse en sufrimiento.

Debido a que no hemos liberado el dolor y el miedo, se convierte en un sentimiento constante de dolor y el temor de no ser digno de nada bueno. El sufrimiento por sí solo es inútil, pero si puede ser como una herramienta para el crecimiento, solo requiere movimiento para que cumpla su propósito. Cuando se ve como una herramienta para el crecimiento espiritual, el sufrimiento tiene una gran capacidad.


Río corriendo entre árboles


Lo que he aprendido sobre el sufrimiento es que requiere movimiento para que pueda liberar sus poderes espirituales. Este movimiento puede venir en forma de liberar el dolor y los miedos. Puede venir en la renuncia al control, reconociendo cuando uno ha hecho todo lo que puede y luego las cosas que aún estamos sufriendo, libérelas para que una fuerza superior en la naturaleza pueda tomarlas. Este movimiento extiende el espacio dentro de nosotros, espacio que crea más capacidad para que podamos amar. Cuanto mayor es el sufrimiento, mayor es la capacidad construida dentro de nosotros para amar.

Este movimiento de sufrimiento a través de nosotros es una fuerza tal que, cuando se sostiene, le permite a uno liberar todas las creencias falsas que tienen en su interior. El sufrimiento nos obstruye y este encofrado hace que nos liberemos con gran fuerza. El sufrimiento nos dobla y al doblar en dolor hace que eliminemos todas aquellas cosas que sosteníamos dentro que creíamos que son verdad ... ¿y si no soy lo suficientemente bueno? ¿Qué pasa si me falla? ¿Y si nadie me quiere? ¿Y si siempre estaré solo? ... y de esta purga viene la oportunidad, la oportunidad de decirnos la verdad.

Pienso en purgar como en vomitar. Cuando vomitamos nos sentimos muy mal. Nuestro estómago se aprieta fuertemente, nuestra garganta nos duele, nuestra boca saliva con un sabor horrible, y luego lo peor nos sale en pedazos, trozos y jugos, todo sale con un olor horrible. ¡Esto es purgar emociones! Puede ser horrible en el proceso, pero una vez que ha comenzado a vomitar, no puede detenerse repentinamente. Lo mismo ocurre con la purga de emociones: una vez que permites que la presa se libere, no puedes intentar detenerla, debe fluir y dejar salir. ¿Y qué pasa cuando terminamos? Nos sentimos adoloridos, pero mejor. Al igual que después de vomitar, nos sentimos un poco temblorosos y crudos por dentro, ¡pero luego nos sentimos mejor! Poco después de vomitar, queremos algo suave y calmante, y queremos que nos abrazen y nos amen. Lo mismo es cierto después de que hayamos liberado muchas emociones y creencias falsas, queremos ser sostenidos, nutridos y amados profundamente y queremos ser llenos de la verdad.


Papel de pergamino en blanco abiertoY poco después de vomitar, no tiene nada dentro de usted ... y su apetito se abrirá.

¡Así es como el sufrimiento nos abre! Finalmente lo dejamos ir, empujamos y liberamos todo dentro de nosotros y un espacio más amplio se ha abierto dentro de nosotros, listo para ser llenado ... ¡así que debemos estar atentos de que nos llenamos!



Entonces, ¿con qué nos llenamos?



Yo digo amor Amor por nosotros mismos, por el camino de la vida que se nos dio para aprender, amor por los más cercanos a nosotros, por el camino de la vida que se nos dio para aprender, amor por este Ser Divino que cree tanto en nuestra capacidad para movernos y crecer.

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

And What if Suffering Leads to Love?

"The mind and spirit of man advance when he is tried by suffering. The more the ground is ploughed the better the seed will grow, the better the harvest will be. Just as the plough furrows the earth deeply, purifying it of weeds and thistles, so suffering and tribulation free man from the petty affairs of this worldly life until he arrives at a state of complete detachment." - 'Abdul-Bahá

It seems we live in a society that is deeply convinced that if we can just live a worry-free, stress-free life we are doing it right. Increasingly I have begun to question this idea and wonder if there is a much deeper significance to suffering and discomfort that we will lose if we try and stay away from suffering. I am not advocating that we worry, worry stems from fear that can lead to a desire to control. I am not saying that we should stress either, stress is a symptom of an attempt to control something that may not be under our ability to control. And finally, I am definitely not saying we should seek suffering or worse, inflict it on others. What I am saying, is that in trying to avoid the suffering that naturally comes with life, we may also be avoiding an opportunity to love deeply.

So then how should we deal with suffering?

Photo by whoislimos on UnsplashWhen thinking about suffering, the question arises what is the cause? Often the cause is an interaction with someone or something. When this interaction is painful or sad and we become uncomfortable, we try and pull away from the pain or the fear. We pull away not only because it is uncomfortable, but most likely we don't know what to do with pain or fear when they show up, as a people we have never really been taught what to do with emotions we don't like except repress them. Emotions are energy and according to the laws of energy, you cannot destroy energy, you cannot make more of it, you can only transform it. So when we repress sadness and fear, it can be transformed into suffering.
Because we have not released the pain and fear, it becomes a constant feeling of pain and a fear of being undeserving of anything good. Suffering by itself is useless as a tool for growth, it requires movement in order for it serve its purpose. When seen as a tool for spiritual growth, suffering has great capacity.

River rushing between trees

What I have learned about suffering is that it requires movement in order for it to release its spiritual powers. This movement can come in the form of releasing pain and fears. It can come in the relinquishment of control, recognizing when one has done all they can and then those things that we are still suffering over, release them so that a higher force in nature can take hold of them. This movement stretches out space within us, space that creates more capacity for us to love. The bigger the suffering, the greater the capacity built within us to love.

This movement of suffering through us is such a force that when sustained, allows one to release all the false beliefs they held within. Suffering shutters us and this shuttering causes us to release with great force. Suffering doubles us over and this doubling over causes us to purge out all those things we held within that we thought were true...what if I'm not good enough? what if I failed? what if nobody wants me? what if I'll always be alone?...and from this purging comes opportunity, opportunity to tell ourselves the truth.

I think of purging like throwing up. When throwing up we feel awful. Our stomach wretches, our throat aches, our mouth salivates a horrible taste, and then the worst stuff comes out of us in bits and pieces, chunks and juices, all of it comes out and with a horrible smell. This is purging emotions! It can be awful in the process, but once you have begun throwing up, you cannot suddenly stop. Same with purging of emotions - once you allow the dam to release, you cannot try and stop it, it must flow and be allowed out. And what happens when we are done? We feel sore, but better. Just like after throwing up - we feel a little shaky and raw inside for a bit, but then we feel better! Soon after throwing up we want something gentle and soothing and we want to be held and loved. The same is true after we have released a great deal of emotions and false beliefs, we want to be held and nurtured and loved deeply and we want to be filled with the truth.

Open blank parchment paperAnd soon after you throw up, you have nothing left inside of you...and your appetite will open up.
This is how suffering opens us up! We finally let go, we contract and release everything within us and a wider space has opened up inside of us, ready to be filled...so we must be mindful of what we fill it with!

So what do we fill ourselves with?

I say love. Love for ourselves, for the life walk we were given to learn from, love for those closest to us, for the life walk they were given to learn from, love for this Divine Being that believes so much in our capacity to move through this life and all of its tests and difficulties and still land in love.

Saturday, November 17, 2018

And Who Are Your Elders?...Why Stories Matter.


 Somehow the third course carried into the late hours and the cousins table slowly dispersed into the living room and into bed. I would lay next to my sister and listen to the cups slide into each other and my tias interrupt each other and my father say – otro mas, para que se vayan a dormir – and everyone would laugh and refill cups and Spanish would mix with Quechua creating the background to my dreams. - Excerpt from the upcoming An Amancaya Life

I grew up in a family of storytellers. Both sides of my family told stories, though in very different ways. My mother would keep us enthralled in car rides or while tucking us in bed with stories of her dog Scoutie and the many adventures of her and her brothers with their father in New England. My mother's sister would show me letters from our early ancestors and of the difficulties they faced as the first European pilgrims in North America. My father's stories were always told over food and with his sisters and brother all around the table talking over each other adding details to their stories and making them larger than life. They would tell of the mischief they made in their home back in Bolivia where my grandmother had lots of land. They would tell of the many baskets of fruit and vegetables they harvested, so much so that they often took big baskets to the church, to widows and elders who might be in need. These stories became the backdrop of my life. These stories held the dreams of my elders, their wishes and desires and most importantly, their failures and triumphs, which spoke of the nature of life - filled with injustices and unexpected rewards.

These are the stories of our elders, those who made strides and great efforts before us. Telling our stories keeps us connected to each other and also reminds us of sacrifices made for us by those we didn't even know and oftentimes weren't related to.

The narrative of working hard and getting ahead in life is a powerful one and if we believe that this is all we have to do, then we look around us and make a lot of judgements about those who are not "getting ahead" in life. Thankfully, once again, stories save us from ourselves and these false narratives we tell ourselves and society. Stories tell a fuller truth and our lives become the complex reality of good vs evil all wrapped in one.

And so, it was with great intrigue that I came across some of these stories in this new part of California that I have the blessing to make my home (Resource of African-Americans in Santa Cruz). As my daughter and I and a good friend explored the Museum of Art and History in Santa Cruz, lovingly referred to as the MAH, we came across some unexpected stories that once again reshaped our thinking around this myth of
Story of Dave Boffman in Spanish
meritocracy. We learned about Dave Boffman who was an enslaved man in Kentucky and who traveled to California with the slaveowner of the plantation he lived on. Boffman was able to earn enough money to buy his freedom, he bought a house, leased a saw mill and began working to mill timber. He even purchased a small ranch in Rodeo Gulch, becoming one of the first African-American land owners in Santa Cruz. The sheriff at the time accused him of stealing a horse. As Blacks were not allowed to testify in court during the 1800s, he lost everything and spent the rest of his life in a shack. Boffman's story contradicts the myth of African-American's not working hard enough and instead demonstrates how systematic racism created conditions of oppression and loss of wealth.

Another elder we learned about was Louden Nelson, also enslaved from North Carolina who came to
Tombstone of London Nelson
California with the slaveowner. He also was able to buy his freedom and worked in odd jobs while growing fruits and vegetables on his farm. He was also able to buy land by the San Lorenzo River. Nelson noticed how children in Santa Cruz could only go to school when their parents could pay and of course, school was restricted only for white children. Having never been allowed to go to school to receive formal education and being stripped of his ancestral knowledge, Nelson recognized the value of education. Finally, the all white school board shut down public schools unwilling to fund them any longer. Upon his death, Nelson bequeathed his entire estate to the school children of Santa Cruz, therefore allowing public schools to open once again. Another example that demonstrates how the spirit of a people cannot be destroyed, and despite the conditions of oppression that stripped him of the right to an education, Nelson chose a nobler path of serving all students in public education with his endowment.

And finally, we were able to recently connect with some of the elders of the Amah Mutsun Tribe, whose land Santa Cruz was built on.

When I met Catherine, I told her my name.
Ymasumac?, she said.
Yes, I answered.
Like from Pachamama and Mama Occlo.

I had never known anyone to know the names of my ancestors guides, much less upon first meeting
Author with a couple of elders from the Amah Mutsun Tribe
Author with Catherine and her family
each other. We immediately hugged in sisterhood and spent over an hour connecting over dreams, tears, and stories. We knew our stories were long ago connected through shared ancestry of struggle, resilience and hope and this created an immediate bond. We knew we had long ago met and we were meant to teach each other again of all that was lost. I also knew it is with gentle feet that I need to walk these Santa Cruz mountains because all of it was lost to the Amah Mutsun and that needs to be honored. How do we right these wrongs? Building relationships and friendships is the beginning...and you let love lead.

You see, these stories keep us and our walk sacred. These stories of our elders reminds us of the truth of injustice, of struggle, of loss, of triumph and of victories to come. They keep us humble and keep us moving forward. When we have nothing else, we have stories and they connect us to our elders and to each other.

Saturday, November 10, 2018

Perception Drives Beliefs which Alter Reality

I was preparing a for a class recently at the university where I teach a course on adolescence and we were going to talk about the school system. Having been raised in two very distinct cultures: Indigenous-Latino with Quechua roots and European American who's ancestors came two years after the first pilgrims came to North America, I am highly conscious of the filters with which we view the world and how they are shaped by our perceptions, which in turn are deeply impacted by our belief systems and highly impacted by our cultural references that impact norms and standards. So, when I think of reality, I am always looking for multiple realities knowing that it highly depends on the doorway of your perception.

When we talk about the U.S. system of education, we cannot divorce this from these multiple realities. We cannot speak about a system of education as if it holds only one window in which we all look through. Our experiences in any system of education will depend highly on the door in which we walk in.  As I researched for my class, I came across a letter from the interactions between the early European pilgrims and the Indigenous people of the Eastern states of North America. It was a response from one of the tribal elders to the colonists. In this letter the elder mentions an invitation made by the colonists for the tribe to send their brightest men to attend the college of the colonists. The tribe responded and a few of their men were sent. Upon returning to the tribe, these young men found their new found skills to be of no use and felt useless in face of the needs of the tribe. The elder mentions this in the letter and in turn invites the colonists to send them their brightest and best young men to be educated by the tribe. The colonists never respond to this invitation.

The interactions of this letter made me think how we define success and value according to our perceptions of reality and belief systems. If we value individualism, competition, and assertiveness than we may very well find success in our educational system as this is the doorway in which it was set up with a set of Western values and norms. But, as the letter suggests, if you enter through a different doorway, as did the elder's young men, then these offer very little value to the survival of your family and more importantly, tribe. If the colonists entered through the doorway of the tribal people on whose land they were building a nation, they might have found that instead of individualism, competition and assertiveness, they would find success through developing a collectivist approach to their tasks in which collectivism, collaboration and group consensus would take precedence. 

So, this is interesting historically, but what are the implications for today? 

Our schools are set up with a learning culture that ultimately, at its core, believes in individualism, competing and striving to be at the top and asserting yourself over others. If you walk in through this doorway and you hold these beliefs to be true, then you could do well. But if you are like me, and either you walk in two worlds in which one is collectivistic and one is individualistic, it is much harder to choose which doorway to walk through. One doorway sacrifices the other. 

So what to do?

When I think of this seemingly conundrum, there are two shifts that I think need to be a part of the change we all seek in the educational system and even in our home learning cultures. 

Multiple Doorways

It is important to recognize that many of us are walking through different doorways into a learning space. I don't mean different doorways in the sense that we are all individuals and with different strengths and weaknesses. I mean collectively, groups have different realities according to their cultural groups and the norms and beliefs of those groups that shape their world view and value system as in the example shared in the letter. 

Many students walk in through different doorways according to their culture and those things valued by each may differ than the school's dominant culture. This may seem small at first, but placing a student in between two cultures can create a clash, which without guidance, can cause an inner conflict. They might be left feeling that they have to choose one doorway to enter into the educational realm successfully, which can by its very nature ask them to sacrifice the other. 

Couple this conflict with the history of oppression humanity has experienced in various ways, in particular through its experiences of colonialism, and you have another layer of right and wrong. The right doorway to enter is through the dominant culture where you develop a strong sense of self and let that self-drive push you through to the top: the top of your class, your team, your group, your class, your art, your sport, your field, etc, etc, etc. This doorway will lead to success as defined by Western standards. 

We can help students with this conflict in two ways: 

One is to understand that these multiple doorways exist. This alone helps students realize that this conflict is not about them being inherently flawed for not finding the right way to succeed. Instead they can begin to work through the gifts and challenges of each doorway and help schools stretch into larger versions of excellence and success. Challenge the system to be more and ultimately, begin questioning itself.

Two, explore the history of oppression and its impact on all people. It did not only impact people of color negatively, those of European descent lost their humanity in order to ride the wave of success of colonialism. Explore with students how this oppression was systemized and shows up today in our school system, our neighborhoods, housing, etc. An excellent article on the Myth of Meritocracy cites a research study in which middle schoolers who came from historically oppressed communities did well academically until they reached the 7th grade. In 7th grade, right at the time when they begin to form a sense of cultural identity, they see the conditions of their home community group and because meritocracy is so strong in the dominant culture of the United States, they falsely believe the conditions of their people are because of an inherent flaw within them. Self-identifying with the negative stereotypes told about their cultural group, they fall into behaviors that ultimately harm them. The research study found that by empowering students with the truth of systematic oppression, students begin to realize it is a systemic condition and can be changed. Students begin to see themselves as protagonists of change, able to shift the reality of the conditions in which they live. 

Seeking Truth Through Consultation

Another important shift is moving away from dichotomous thinking. We currently live in a society

Image of outline of two heads facing each other
that is strongly polarized by right and wrong, yes and no, and when we think in these terms no one wins. Like a child moving through adolescence, we can try and hold onto these false dichotomies of right and wrong in an effort to find calm and balance in a world that increasingly feels unbalanced. As humanity collectively moves through the stage of adolescence, we will increasingly find ourselves needing to move away from simple answers of yes and no, to searching through the complexity of human experiences for the truth. This search for truth will require a new tool that can elevate our conversations from finger-pointing that runs on fear and pain, to a recognition of the oneness of humanity and the inherent value that each human soul has something of deep value to contribute. 

I have found the tool of consultation to be of great value for me and my family as we try and sift through the diverse cultures and belief systems that run through our family to the truth. Along with many other families, the hard realities of the society we live in have impacted us deeply and we at times also feel lost and confused. And, like other families, with historical oppression running deep in our blood, one can feel overwhelmed by the pain and anger that can well up at the callous effects this oppression can have on family relations and with larger society. The effects of oppression can show up in mental illness, in a false sense of isolation and division among loved ones, self-identifying with stereotypes and often feeling not good enough. These have all shown up at my doorstep either through familial experiences or with the many noble souls I get to engage with in healing work who try to shift through the mire of pain, fear and anger that wells up inside of them. 

I use consultation in the tradition of the Baha'i Faith, which asks the participants to detach from hoped for outcomes and instead to enter the consultation with a pure heart in search of truth. 
The first condition is absolute love and harmony - 'Abdu'l-Bahá 
As humanity moves through the mire of difficulties that lies before it, we can no longer hope to strong arm each other in believing that there is only one of us who is right. We must begin the path of maturity in which we recognize that humans are complex beings with many paths and doorways traveling through and around them. That answers lie in learning from each other and with each other. That truth will only come when we stop holding onto our version of reality as the only version. When we begin to recognize, that maybe there are multiple ways to view and experience the world, and to learn from each other about these multiple ways might mean suspending the truth as we know it with an open heart for a new truth to show up. 

Thursday, September 27, 2018

When healing brings pain: Go to the gym, Make a sandwich, Meditate

"The wound is the place where the light enters you" - Rumi


Recently, when working with a client we were opening a very tender area that brought out a great deal of pain. Not hesitating, and also not fully understanding, my client walked forward into the pain. A broken relationship opened up the wound and now he stood before its doorway and had only to enter and hear its voice. As he began to walk forward the cries, tension and pull of pain unfolded and began to envelope him and he soon found himself pulling back out and standing on the precipice in quiet awe of the well of grief he held inside.
We reflected after on the experience and the awesome stretch of emotions that were held in what seemed to be the cavity of his chest. He also shared his hesitation in the face of such deep pain.

I understand this hesitation, have walked it many times before, and what I have found is that healing is very much like going to the gym, making a sandwich and meditating on a mountain top all at once!

Going to the gym 

When people ask me if they can work with me in healing work, I am, of course, honored and humbled. The next question is usually, how often we should meet. Everyone's healing journey is unique and within each of us is the teacher and healer of this journey. We often, however, initially need a guide who has traversed these grounds before and can walk us through the dark corners and help bring in the light. To do this, we must treat it like going to the gym. 

If I want to develop my muscles, I cannot hope to do this by going to the gym once a month. It must instead become a consistent practice of 2-3 times a week on a regular basis to begin building my muscles, develop a routine and practice that I would most likely carry into my everyday walk of building up my physique. 

So too with the work of the spirit. We cannot hope to open our hearts to love by only attending to our hearts once a month. We must instead make it a consistent practice of going into those tender places where the heart hurts the most and begin opening it up. By walking into the pain every single week during a healing session, we begin to build and widen our tolerance for pain. This stretching out of our capacity to endure pain, also stretches out our capacity to love. Enduring pain does not mean holding your breath and waiting until its over, that only builds more walls, which may keep out the pain for a while, but it will also keep out love, tenderness, kindness, compassion and it will keep it from the one who needs it most of all, ourself. 

Walking into pain and grief says, I believe in you...I trust you...I have faith in you and your capacity to heal and walk into the light. 

By consistently facing and exploring those places within us that are tender, bring up the wells of tears and open up big fears about who we think we are...builds our endurance to hold more space for these hard emotions. When we can hold space for hard emotions for ourselves, we can begin to hold space for others and all of their emotions without making it about us...instead we just love those who are in front of us with all of their raw emotion...we can bring in the light, as we did for ourself during every healing session. 

Just like working out at the gym at a consistent pace begins to develop our muscles creating strength, it also stretches our limbs and makes us more limber, and lifts our spirits with overall health. So too does healing over time...we cannot hope to sit in front of others and all of their baggage and love them if we cannot first learn to love the beautiful creation within us that is behind our own baggage. 

Each weekly healing session when we sit with our pain and fear even if just a little bit longer each time, builds our endurance for pain, increasing the depth of our capacity to love. 

Making a Sandwich
Quote: The troubles of this world shall pass, and what we have left is what we made of our souls. Shoghi Effendi

I often refer to healing as making a sandwich. We go into our bodies by breathing into the pain and fear, but we must also create new mental mindsets and begin to understand the changes we are creating within us. Healing is not just about releasing emotion or trauma, it is also about understanding the world with a different mental frame. 

During healing sessions, once the pain or fear has lifted a bit, my clients and I discuss what is the shift that is taking place. For example, when someone I love is commenting on my behavior in a negative way and telling me all the things that are wrong with me, it can be deeply hurtful and I might think what they're saying is true. I often ask my clients to do two things:

One, check in - take a moment to do an inventory of yourself. Is there truth to what they're saying? Is there something I need to look at within myself? And if there is, then that is my focus, nothing else. No need to defend, argue, challenge, deflect. Just a humble acknowledgment that maybe there are some areas of growth I need to continue looking at. 

And if they continue or I don't see those faults they point out. 

Two, turn the mirror - sometimes, when others (including ourselves) point out faults in their loved ones, they are very often saying out loud what they think about themselves. We often see the world through the lens in which we see ourselves. If we take in what people say about us as truths it is as if there were a mirror being held in front of us and we're looking at ourselves the way they see us - it can be very depressing! If we have checked in and know what they are saying is not our truth, then turn the mirror around...the reality is they may very well be talking about how they see themselves. So what then should be our response? Compassion and boundaries. How painful it is to think negatively about oneself - I know, I'm guilty of having done this to myself as well! And how grateful I am for people who showed me a great deal of love and compassion when I was hard on myself, instead of anger and defensiveness. I am also grateful for when people responded with strong boundaries encased in love. Depending on the situation if someone is railing on and on about how awful I am or what I have done wrong that is so deplorable my response might be, Hmm, got it. Talk to you later. And leave.

It is important to create mental frames that support your healing path: Someone's dumping their garbage is really just that, their garbage they haven't let go about themselves. My mind is a great storyteller and it often creates stories about what is happening in front of me that may not be true and usually places the world against me. Our mind's storytelling language can have phrases like: No one wants me. They probably don't want to be my friend. He probably doesn't care about me. 
Time to set up...Boundaries. I was not created to be someone's garbage pail to deposit all their bad feelings on and it is up to me to be clear about when to stand up for justice and say no. Saying no to abusive behavior towards me or someone else is taking a stand for justice. Boundaries help me stay in my power base.   

Meditating on a mountain top

Well, it doesn't have to be a mountain top...but meditation brings in the mystic and spiritual quality of healing. Healing is after all a power that is generated from spirit and is not really of the material realm. Yes, healing has physical manifestations of feeling lighter, happier and healthier overall. But ultimately, healing is mystical in nature and comes from a force that both animates and destroys the universe...so you know it is a powerful energy!

During the healing process when I work with clients and they have opened up a tender place, a wound, a traumatic memory...after all the hard emotions have spilled out and false beliefs have been aired, I ask them to bring in the noble self. This noble self is our highest nature...whatever this Divine Force is that animates the universe...it is the highest reflection of this Divine Force's creation within us.

Recognizing and accessing this noble self within is essential in the healing process - how else do we know who we are becoming? More importantly, as we begin to recognize our own nobility, we begin to see the nobility in others. It becomes the eyes in which we see the world!

There are, I'm sure, many ways to access and recognize this noble soul and meditation is one of those ways. Meditation has often been hijacked by the West to mean sitting in lotus position with eyes closed in a temple or in some hilltop in Malibu. Meditation can be a walking prayer, a hum when you work, a way of seeing the world through spiritual eyes, a conscious effort to stay in gratitude, a willingness to recognize the sacred act of opening up places within us that scare us. Meditation can be the consciousness of the energy that binds us to those we love and to those we don't yet know we love. It is the recognition that there is a Divine Source that participates in all of life's movements and is present in every effort to create more love, bring in more light and ultimately, is the balm of healing.

When we bring these three essential practices into our healing work, we begin to walk with more wholeness and see the world in a wider embrace of love...which we actively participate in.

So when healing brings in pain...I go to the gym, make a sandwich and meditate...it is after all, a lot of work to participate in the recreation of oneself!